Moments and Movements

It’s easy to hear commentators describe the “me too” moment and feel cynical. It is tempting to lump it in with the marches for science and climate sense, and the recent amazing push by high school students for gun safety laws, and all the writing and calling so many of us have done for so many causes, and conclude it has all been useless because things aren’t any better. Is it true?

My husband and I have a fondness for procedural crime dramas, and we’ve recently gotten hooked on a series about a Wyoming sheriff from a decade ago. He and his wise Native American friend Henry handle all manner of mayhem, but a recent episode about sexual assault took a turn for the serious when justice was not had. The young female Cheyenne survivor was referred to a group of Native American women who met monthly to help women in her situation.

“How long has this been going on?” Henry is asked. He gives the questioner a funny look.

“Forever,” he answers.

The writers got that one right.

Yet, what we forget is there has been change, in this area and so many others. Both laws and attitudes about sexual harassment, sexual assault and domestic violence have slowly crept towards reasonable, as have our laws and attitudes in other areas of human fairness.

I understand there is debate about Martin Luther King’s quote “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Some argue these words discourage the hard work needed to make a better world. I see the quote  differently. I think it means that if we do the hard work, if we raise awareness and argue for fairness and believe in justice, then slowly, the inherent goodness in the human soul will respond with a gentle lean towards what is right. I think the quote means that ultimately humans are a moral people who understand and wish for goodness. Given time and encouragement, they will grow in that direction much as a plant grows towards the sun.

No single event ended segregation, no one protest stopped the Vietnam war. But over years, the hatred behind racism and the futility of needless conflicts fell out of favor with mainstream American, and differences were made. Perhaps too little. Certainly too slowly. But it was undeniably better than if there had been no progress at all.

So I try to remain hopeful as I listen to the “me too” hype. Nothing will be particularly different tomorrow. The success of the movement will be apparent a generation from now, when mothers tell their daughters how bad it once was, and the daughters have trouble believing them.

 

woman traveling alone

She’s prohibited in a few places, and frowned upon in many others. Some fear for her safety, others decide she is asking for trouble. Few cultures, if any, are totally comfortable with a woman traveling alone.

These days, she travels for her work, sometimes, and that is understandable. Other times, she is on her way to help aging parents, or to meet friends or family, and of course that makes sense. But what about the woman on a journey, a whole journey, by herself, simply for the sake of enjoying herself? At best, it seems odd to many.

Yet, she does exist, and she wants to go places.

Women have more money than in times past. They also have (on the average) more of a yen to travel. Spouses, relatives and friends may want to go, too, but when they don’t, women are opting to go alone. For many, joining a travel group provides an easier, and possibly safer, way to do this.

Now, I’ve always been someone who enjoys researching a destination and making my own plans. The internet allows for fabulous discoveries for someone willing to invest the time, and I prefer to move on my own schedule and get off the most-traveled path. But I also have always had someone, usually my husband, traveling with me, and I wonder if I am up to taking  similar trips, to a foreign country very different from my own, by myself.

I recently went to Peru, and did it with my first tour group.

There were a lot of considerations. I wasn’t traveling alone, but with my daughter, and I didn’t want the role of tour guide. I was concerned about our mutual safety, our poor grasp of Spanish, and the fairly daunting logistics of getting from Lima to Cuzco, dealing with a 12,000 elevation change, then navigating buses and trains through the Sacred Valley, and securing two of the carefully controlled tickets into Machu Picchu and then doing it all again in reverse to get home. I knew I could manage it, but it sounded more like work than fun.

So I used the internet to find a company called G Adventures, and read about their modestly priced, no-frills modular tour concept. It seemed to include them doing the hard part (clean yet cheap lodging, train tickets) and us handling our own arrival in Peru, shopping, dining and all extraneous activities. I liked the approach.

When our group of sixteen convened for the first time at a hotel in Lima, we were an eclectic mix of two mother-daughter combos, two sisters with one’s husband, a married couple, a pair of twenty-somethings, and five solos travelers. We hailed from Canada, the US, Germany and Australia.

Four of the solo people were men, and one was an independent young professional woman who impressed me with her approach. She’d always wanted to go to Peru, and finally accepted that it wasn’t a priority for anyone else she knew. So, here she was.

That’s the way to do it, I thought.

We had a great time in Peru, and the tour thing worked out quite well as this was one destination where having some help was wise. I took away more from this trip than happy memories and fine photos, however. I took away an idea.

You see, there are a lot of places in this world I want to go. Many of them do not interest my husband at all. Relatives and friends may be persuaded to go to some of these with me, but hey, I don’t think I’ve got anyone who wants to see Kyrgyzstan as bad as I do.

Guess what? G Adventures offers a trip there. They also do to Bhutan. And Cambodia. And Antarctica. And there are other companies like them. And maybe, after doing some of these, I’ll feel ready to tackle more difficult destinations on my own. And maybe not.

Either way, the world is my oyster, as long as my health and my funds hold out. You see, I came home from Peru with more than pretty scarves and coco candy. I came back with a plan; a plan of how to be a woman who travels alone.

Spending time

“He asked me out again. I don’t really want to go. But maybe I should. What do you think?”

It’s a common conversation among women.

We continue to have a system in which he is more commonly the inviter, causing plenty of problems for him, and she is more often the invitee, causing another set of problems for her.

She deals with the invitation that never comes, or comes too late, and with finding creative and kind ways to decline the invite she is positive she does not want. Perhaps the trickiest one, though, is the chance to spend time with someone she’s pretty sure she’s not going to want to see more often, but …

This problem, of course, isn’t confined to dating. We’ve all had nice enough acquaintances who’ve tried to include us more, but we just didn’t see that much in common. We’ve been invited to be on teams or join groups that sort of sounded like fun, but weren’t really. It’s usually flattering to be invited, and for reasons of upbringing, personality or societal expectations, most of us find it hard to say no.

We shouldn’t.

Too many people spend too much of their limited free time doing things they aren’t all that interested in, with people they don’t particularly enjoy. I think it’s time we give ourselves far greater permission to treat our time as the resource it is, and learn to say “I don’t want to join you” in a way that is both kind and firm.

Yes, doing this requires a certain amount of courage.

A few days ago I found myself on the listening end of the conversation I started this post with, and was surprised at the vehemence of my answer. Maybe it was because she had just been telling me how hard she was trying to save money, and how poorly it was going. Something clicked.

“What makes you think your free time is any less precious than your spending money? It’s more precious. Hell yes, you say no if you don’t feel like going!”

Then I started to think about the words we use to describe both of these concepts. We have money. We spend money. We have time. We spend time.

Do we spend anything else? I don’t think so. Even our language acknowledges that time is a resource as precious as our wealth.

A few years ago, two former co-workers I hadn’t seen in years came to my home town and invited me out for the day. They seemed surprised and miffed when I declined. The reaction bothered me, and I remembered writing a post then about saying no to things you don’t want to do. I just found it and it’s called No, I actually don’t want to spend time with you.

I reread it and I stand by it. It’s never necessary to be rude. It is fair to be tired, over-committed, in need of some down time or just plain not interested. It is okay to try something, including an activity or a relationship of any sort, and decide this isn’t a thing you want to keep doing.

We go to great lengths to keep a thief from from spending our money. I think we’d be well-served if we were as vigilant about not letting others take over how we spend our free time.

(For more thoughts on how to use one’s precious time wisely, or poorly, see Live like you are going die?)

 

 

A better word than courage?

While I was thinking through my idealistic first novel about how telepathy could bring about empathy, compassion and peace on earth, I was already formulating a far different story about the times and circumstances when understanding a point of view is incomprehensible, and when even the most vulnerable need to find the strength to stand up and fight.

I was moving my emotions into the coolers colors that, to me, denoted the “but what about” response to all the good cheer of peace and joy and hope that my first three books were encompassing. In order to write about the one, I had to write about the other.

The word I wanted to describe the theme of my fourth novel was somewhere in between desperation and bravery. It was a word that would call to mind

the children and elders in a village grabbing kitchen knives and pitchforks and fighting in their own front yards with their hearts and souls to preserve what was decent and good in the face of indisputable evil, and, against all odds, triumphing.

I called it courage, but that only scratches the surface of what I was trying to convey. Is there a word for this situation? If not, we need one.

(For more thoughts on words we need, see A better word than loyalty?, A better word than peace?, A better word than joy?, and A better word than hope? )

Top Requirement for a Superhero

I love superheroes. And, I love it when women in fiction are strong and capable. But, for some odd reason I’ve never been much of a fan of Wonder Woman.

It could have been the tiara, way back when, or the silly skirted costume. This original heroine was before my time, but her image lingered, and it made her appear to me like a secretary out of the 40’s hustling to get her really angry boss a cup of coffee.

More likely it was the goofy boots and lasso I saw as a young girl. This modernized Wonder Woman had a faintly Texas air about her, and I wasn’t big on cowboy stories. Was I judging her by her appearance? Sadly, yes. I didn’t know much else about her, though, because although I read comics and watched superheroes on TV,  somehow her stories were never there. Her image was all I had.

Then I became a teen-aged feminist, and Wonder Woman became a sex object. Well, not totally I’m sure, but her outward appearance took a sharp turn, so once again I wasn’t interested in her. I preferred my heroes not to look like that they were prepared to do a lap dance in some sort of kinky bondage strip club.

Finally, I outgrew superheros for a long while, as I tended to the challenges of life in my own real world. It was only when I picked up my laptop and started to write books that I discovered how much I had missed heroes with superpowers.

Didn’t give Wonder Woman much thought though, until I caught an interview with the director of the upcoming movie. Really? Someone is making a movie about Wonder Woman?

It sounded interesting, and I went. And I loved it. Not because she was a woman, though that was nice. Not because she was strong and heroic, which of course she was. And not because the whole rest of the movie was basically done with taste and class, though I thought it was, too.

I loved it because she had what I need to see in every hero I appreciate. She had heart. Compassion. Kindness. Ethics. Morals. A desire to make the world better. All those things that all the guy heroes I liked had all along, and maybe she had it too but if all you get is an image and an occasional bit in a fight scene, then there is no way to show that heart is there.

I walked away loving her concept of “it’s not about what they deserve, it’s about what you believe.” That’s a great way to run an army, a country, or a world. In fact, I like that idea so much that all my other blog posts this month will be about letting beliefs shape actions.

I love superheroes. And, I love it when women in fiction are strong and capable. But, my favorite hero of them all is now Wonder Woman.

(For more Wonder Woman inspired thoughts, see Believe, It’s About What You Believe, I believe in appreciating those who protect us. All of them, and Believe in Tomorrow.)

 

 

The Courage to Embrace Those Far Away Places

After writing a book that takes place in India, and making online friends there, I follow the news from this amazing South Asian country. Much of it is positive and even uplifting.

Countless stories of personal courage and altruism fill the Times of India section called Good News Stories, and everyday headlines tell tales like how the tech savvy country was barely affected by the ‘WannaCry’ ransomware that froze computers in over 100 countries worldwide.

And yet, India has once again made the headlines in the United States with a horrific rape. This time, a jilted lover and his friends abducted and ultimately murdered a young woman on May 9. The details are horrible.

Along with the many tragic aspects of this incident is the side effect of how it serves to further separate the people of this world. No society exists on this planet that does not have its crimes; larger countries have more. Crowding, poverty, stresses from modernization and the integration of different cultures adds to volatility everywhere. But when the awful event occurs in the back yard of somebody else who lives far away from you, it is easy to think  “Oh, that’s the way they are.”

That is unfortunate at any time, but especially now. Thanks to recent events, my own country is seeing a surge of hate crimes with intolerance on the rise. Our world is facing a growing epidemic of nationalism, the frequent outgrowth of which is more hostility, a lack of international cooperation and even wars. Right now, we need all the cross-cultural empathy that we can get.

It’s a delicate matter to feel a sense of commonness when learning of a bad situation that we don’t think would occur in our own culture. (Of course, we could be wrong about that.) But surely it is no stretch to identify with the anger and loss of the victim’s family, with the sense of fear and outrage in the community, and with the confusion and shame of the perpetrator’s family. These all extend well beyond the specifics of the crime, and are woven into the stories of mayhem and destruction of any sort, in any place.

Far away places. They can be scary. They can be easy to demonize and hard to identify with. That is, until we look at the deeper emotions behind the events and see the common threads. Then we can weep for others and wish healing for them, because in our hearts we, too, know what it is like to face sorrow and find the strength to move on.

Enjoy this relaxing duet of two icons of Americana, Willie Nelson and Sheryl Crow, as they sing about “Far Away Places.”

(For more thoughts on Far Away Places see Leaving a Light Footprint in a Far Away Place, As Far Away Places Edge Closer, Caring About Far Away Places and Those Far Away Places Could Be Next Door.)

Backing Down, Making Nice, and Saying Goodbye

I’ve been in something of a daze since November 9, the morning after the election. Words are my medium, and yet for all of my fear and frustration, I felt mute once the results were in, silenced by the forces of “we all need to pull together now and accept what has happened.”

I tried to be in this place, I swear I did, but after a week or two of hearing the improbable words “President-elect Trump” I wasn’t even close to being there. So, it was something of a relief to me to be included in on the following email from one old friend of mine to another. My friend said:

I recall you never warmed to Hillary, but I appreciate that you overcame your misgivings to vote for her. The likability debate always perplexed me, particularly from other women. We’re not electing prom queen here, or favorite mom or grandmother. There’s been a 30-plus year drumbeat from her Republican detractors about what a conniving b—– she is. A lot of it is raging sexism and just general Clinton hating. News flash: Things were pretty good when Bill Clinton was president, but let’s bash Hillary for her pantsuits and not being warm and fuzzy enough. During the election, I’ve taken these attacks on Hillary very personally. I’ve experienced a lot of sexism, and now ageism, in my life. I don’t suffer fools gladly, and neither does Hillary, a quality that is seldom appreciated in women but OK for men.  And when Hillary takes the knocks, I feel them.

I do know plenty of Trump supporters and the fact that they sincerely believe they made the right choice only scares me for this country.

Really? You thought the narcissistic cretin was a better choice than Hillary, I would say to them? The guy who penned in the media and egged on his sycophants to jeer them? Are you familiar with the First Amendment?

You think it’s OK to diss a Gold Star family? To mock a disabled person? To build a wall on the Mexican border and make Mexico pay for it? To challenge our president’s birth certificate? To have an inner circle of racists and con men who spread utter lies in their fake news outlets? To barge into a dressing room with naked young women who work for you? To brag about grabbing women by their pussies? To insist that women who aren’t beautiful (in your opinion) be gotten rid of at your clubs? To build your empire by cheating the little guy? To brag about not paying your taxes? To refuse to release your tax returns? To threaten our allies? To suck up to Putin?

And so on.

This is not a normal Republican, with a platform that I might disagree with but could understand on some level. Trump’s platform was mostly fear of the other, pent-up racism against Obama and general paranoia. During the debates, he dodged intelligent discourse in favor of “such a nasty woman” and “crooked Hillary.”
I don’t need to listen to Trump supporters, or respect them, either. Many of them DO seem ignorant. How could you listen to the debates and not come to a basic conclusion about who was the superior candidate? Wait, you didn’t listen to the debates! You didn’t need to! Anyone would be better than Hillary!

I’m not interested in a Trump supporter’s convoluted explanation of why they aren’t a racist, homophobic, and so on. If they voted for Trump, they were saying that all of the unforgivable things he said and did, and will continue to do and say, were preferable to voting for one of the most qualified candidates we’ve had.

As we move forward, I’m proud to be with the people who won’t normalize Trump’s behavior. With a Congress that is stacked in his favor, it won’t be easy.

These days, my theme song is, “I won’t back down.”

Yeah. Exactly what she said. And just in case you don’t remember the Tom Petty classic, here is a memory refresher for you to enjoy.

It’s been almost two weeks now since I received that email, and I keep looking for signs of hope that the governing of these wonderful United States is not going to be reduced to a reality TV show, wherein contestants are egged on and judged in one man’s twitter account. I’m not seeing a lot of hope.

What I am seeing are signs that there are people from all walks of life who share my concerns: people with whom I might have guessed that I had little in common. My sports loving husband had me listen to an interview with the San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and at the end I stood up and cheered. From the evangelical Christian point of view came an article written by Rev. Dr. Robin Meyers of Oklahoma City that reminded me of the compassion and love embedded in true Christian faith. Meanwhile trans woman, atheist and civil rights activist Danielle Muscato tore into The Donald on twitter and her words could not have reflected my own thoughts better. Either. What these three people have in common in my opinion is that they are compassionate and aware humans.

So, yeah, instead of being able to find encouragement in The Donald’s excellent cabinet picks and his swivel to embrace the importance of the job to which he has been elected, I am having to take comfort in the words of those who are as appalled as I am. As for the folks who thought any change was good change, well, I am not ready to make nice.

In fact, that wonderful tune from the Dixie Chicks is probably my theme song right now. Remember that this song was written in response to the outrage fans expressed when the Dixie Chicks criticized George Bush for invading Iraq. If you haven’t heard it in awhile, view it through the eyes of 2016, a time when evading Iraq looks incredibly stupid and yet George Bush doesn’t look half as inept as he once did.

There is one more song running through my head these days. I’m updating the music page for this blog, and I’ve gotten to the last song referred to in the book c3, “How Can I Help You Say Goodbye” recorded by Patty Loveless in 1993.

It’s true that my least favorite thing about country music has always been its tendency to be overly sentimental. So when “How Can I Help You Say Good-bye” was suggested to me for c3 by my country music consultant, I winced. Then I played it through a few times just to try the idea on. Yes, it made me cry, but behind those words designed to easily coax out tears, I heard a wisdom about accepting the pain in life. The more I played the song, the more the underlying message spoke to me, until soon it made it’s way into the end of my book and onto the short list of country songs I do like.

Today I’m thinking that there is message in there for me. We say goodbye to all sorts of things in life; childhood friends and those we love and ideas that matter to us. Having a woman president meant a lot to me, perhaps more than I realized before the election. For all my righteous frustration with the childishness of the incoming administration, I need to let go of the idea that I am going to see a woman president anytime soon, at least in the next four years. I’m particularly fond of this simple version of the song performed live on television by Patty Loveless.

Accept and move on. That doesn’t mean backing down on my principles.  It does not mean making nice with the people who put us into this mess. In fact, hanging on to what I believe and refusing to look the other way regarding hateful behavior is going to help me get out of this funk. I’m determined to find a way to say goodbye to a world that is not going to be, and then to work my hardest to see that four years from now I’m singing a very different kind of song.